Cover photo for Shirley Greenberg's Obituary
Shirley Greenberg Profile Photo
1921 Shirley 2022

Shirley Greenberg

October 6, 1921 — May 25, 2022



October 6, 1931 - May 25, 2022

Shirley passed away peacefully in Ottawa after a brief illness, with her family at her side. She is survived by her daughter, Martha Bergeron (Eric Schygulla), son Dan (Barbara Crook), daughter Phoebe and grandson, Miles. She was predeceased by her husband, Irving; her parents, Elizabeth and Jacob George Schnell; and her brother, William Gerald Schnell. Shirley was a pioneer in the women's movement, the legal profession and the philanthropic world. She was born in Ottawa, and grew up in various parts of Canada as part of a military family. She had worked as a legal secretary, and was raising a family when the burgeoning women's movement inspired her to get an undergraduate degree in sociology as a mature student at Carleton University, followed by a law degree from the University of Ottawa when she was 45. When she started her practice in the 1970s, there were only 10 women in Ottawa practising law and more than 1,000 men. Shirley was among those who worked hard to change that status quo. She created the first all-female law practice in Ottawa, which was also one of the first in Canada. She helped found the Ottawa Women's Centre, which in turn led to the creation of the Women's Career Counselling Centre, the Rape Crisis Centre and Interval House, the refuge for abused women and children. She co-founded the National Association of Women and the Law, which educates and lobbies governments to address the status of women and their legal issues, and the Legal Education Action Fund (LEAF), which ensures that women's interests are adequately reflected in all court cases. As a philanthropist, Shirley donated to projects designed to improve the status and well-being of women. These included the Shirley E. Greenberg Women's Health Centre at the Riverside Campus of the Ottawa Hospital; the Breast Cancer Imaging Suite at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital and the Mental Health Resource Centre for Women at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. She established scholarships and bursaries at both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. In 2019, along with the Honourable Nancy Ruth, she donated funds to set up the Women's Archives at the University of Ottawa. She was a big supporter of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, which declared her "Mino-de'elkwe" (Good Hearted Woman) in 2018. Her latest gifts to the Bruyère Foundation helped expand palliative care to the Saint Vincent's Campus, to strengthen services for families living with dementia and to enhance services and supports to seniors in Ottawa. In addition to the honorary doctorate she received from the University of Ottawa in 2003, Shirley's awards included the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Shirley was a loyal and devoted friend, a famously keen bargain hunter and a great hostess, renowned for her famous July 1st parties. She was always up for an adventure. She travelled the world, but had a particular fondness for her winter home on the west coast of Barbados. Upon her return to Canada on April 15th, she developed the debilitating symptoms of a rare auto-immune disease called Dermatomyositis, which attacks the skin, joints and muscles. Every treatment option was pursued, but she developed complications and was admitted to hospital on May 21st. She was mentally sharp and in control of her life and her passing, and never lost her unique sense of humour and impeccable comic timing. Shirley was blessed with lifelong friends and colleagues who are too numerous to thank individually. Eternal gratitude to Eleanor Thompson, who was Shirley's friend for more than 60 years and her absolute champion and advocate in these final weeks; and to Cynthia and Mike Gibbs, who were her guardian angels during her final trip to Barbados. The family is very grateful for the exceptional care provided to Shirley by the teams at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital and Bruyère Continuing Care over the years, and especially these last few weeks. Heartfelt thanks to the staff and volunteers at Unitarian House, where Shirley moved in 2021. A celebration of Shirley's life will occur at a later date. Donations in Shirley's name to the Retirement Living Unit Assistance Fund at Unitarian House ( ), the Bruyère Foundation ( ), or to one of the many organizations Shirley supported would be greatly appreciated by the family.

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